FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the US Blew a Chance to Reconcile with Iran

by

In the late 1980s the U.S. government had an opportunity to change its relationship with Iran from hostile to nonadversarial. It had been hostile since 1979, when the Islamic revolution overthrew the brutal U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Iranians held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.
The relationship deteriorated further when the Reagan administration helped Iraq after it attacked Iran and as the Iraqi forces used chemical weapons on the Iranians. During the war, the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing the more than 200 people aboard. (On the other side, the Reagan administration sold arms to Iranians in an attempt to free American hostages in Lebanon and to finance aid to the Contras in Central America.)
Despite all this, reports Gareth Porter in his important new book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, change was in the air in 1989.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, died and was succeeded by the president, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Then Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaker of the parliament, was elected president. His “victory brought to power a pragmatic conservative who was openly committed to integrating Iran into the global economic system,” Porter writes.
Meanwhile in the United States, George H.W. Bush had become president. Bush, Porter writes, “recognized the opportunity [for a new relationship] and pledged in his inaugural address … that Iran’s ‘assistance’ in the liberation of US hostages being held by a militant group in Lebanon would be ‘long remembered,’ adding, ‘Goodwill begets goodwill.’”
The Bush administration took steps toward normalization, and Iran went to work on freeing the hostages. On Dec. 4, 1991, the last American was freed.
“Reciprocal gestures” from the Americans, such as lifting some economic sanctions and removing Iran from the terrorist list, got a close look.
Then suddenly, in April 1992, the administration changed course.
Why? According to Porter, people in the administration have since said that intelligence reports indicated Iran was planning to engage in terrorism, rearm, and procure nuclear weapons. The source for this information was Bush’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. “But,” Porter writes, “Scowcroft cited no intelligence of an actual terrorist attack by Iran, except for the claim of an Iranian assassination of someone who was not identified somewhere in Connecticut. And that claim was apparently either a mistake or a deliberate ruse by someone seeking to justify the refusal to make any reciprocal gesture to Iran, because no such assassination was ever registered in the FBI’s central database of incidents relevant to its work.”
This would foreshadow a pattern of attributing, without evidence, violence almost anywhere in the world to Iran or an Iran-backed group. As for the claim about nuclear weapons, Porter’s book demonstrates that while Iran wanted a civilian nuclear industry, including the ability to enrich uranium, it never sought a nuclear weapon — and the U.S. government knew it.
What, then, accounts for the change from conciliation to continued antagonism? Porter partly implicates Robert Gates, who became CIA director just as interest in a new relationship was vanishing. “One explanation for his hostility to Iran,” Porter writes, “was that he blamed then president Rafsanjani for having revealed the 1986 secret visit of NSC [National Security Council] staff to Iran in connection with the Iran-Contra plan — an episode that almost cost Gates his career.… Gates was nominated for CIA director in 1987, but he withdrew his name after it became clear that he would not be confirmed because of questions raised by other witnesses about his veracity.”
But Porter also provides ample evidence that the main reason for the about-face was fear at the CIA and Pentagon that their budgets and staffs would be slashed with the end of the Cold War. The “CIA had a very large institutional interest at stake in treating Iran as a new, high-priority threat to US interests…,” Porter writes. “The CIA leadership had begun the search for substitutes for the Soviet threat as early as 1988.”
Would these government agencies really manufacture a threat merely to protect themselves from budget cutters in the wake of the Cold War? Anyone who knows anything about bureaucracies knows the answer to that question.
Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail